In the midst of the stay-at-home orders in Orange County, Calif. that kicked off a few months ago, I decided it was the perfect time to reorganize my garage workspace after having accumulated far too many parts, boxes and assorted mystery items. I made a promise to myself that I'd reduce the clutter and finally get organized, and with overhead storage installed and a healthy purge of any unnecessary bits, I made room for a new tool cabinet and work bench that really helped put everything together in an easy-to-access point between a few of my project cars.
More recently, I hunted down a used stainless-top workbench to add to one side of my garage as a separate workspace. The idea was to add a couple of machines that I've wanted for quite a while, but I didn't want to give up the space on my toolbox and cabinet benchtop. A used bench seemed like the best fit, and with a little clean up, was well worth the lengthy drive and awkward online haggling.
Drilling, sanding, grinding and degreasing/cleaning seem to be the most common activities that accompany project car building, at least in my personal experience. All of these can be done a thousand different ways, but I was interested in maximizing my time and making things a bit easier. I reached out to Eastwood, a brand that started way back in 1978 by Curt Strohacker, who would later grow the business to what is today—an automotive DIY'ers ultimate source of restoration and customization that includes tools, auto parts, fabrication goods and paint/coating options, with over 4,000 unique products available on their ever-growing website. Add to that a well-earned reputation for delivering quality goods and offering expert DIY advice via phone or email, and you can understand why they've become a destination site for everyone from beginners to top builders.
My Only Vise ...
Eastwood 8-in. Bench Vise
One of the most basic items any garage can benefit from is a solid vise. Ideal for drilling, cutting and often serving as a second set of hands, Eastwood offers a 6-in. as well as an 8-in. version. I opted for the larger vise with its 8-in. wide jaws that also have a maximum opening size of 8 inches. Eastwood states a bench vise "is the cornerstone from which a workshop is built" and I'd have to agree 100 percent, especially when it's as versatile as this one.
The industrial quality vise features an anvil body and a 360-degree swiveling base with locking pins on either side to secure it once you've positioned it exactly where you want it. The movement in the swivel is incredibly smooth and I think I was expecting much more of a fight considering the weight of the unit.
The locking pins, main handle and screw are all chrome plated, while the body is coated in Eastwood's signature blue, and based on the feel of this vise, I expect this will literally last forever—it's built like a tank. You'll definitely want to mount the vise permanently to your table using quality hardware with washers to completely secure it.
The upper portion of the jaws are textured for maximum grip, and just below you'll find curved teeth ideal for securing piping and round stock. Eastwood also offers "soft jaws" that are a little gentler to avoid gouging steel goods, and they attach with simple magnetic backs. I grabbed a set of polyurethane magnetic overlays that I'll be using to assemble AN fittings and lines as well as to hold carbon fiber and Kevlar panels without scratching the finish.
A Mini Mill is Worth a Million Bucks
Eastwood Benchtop Mini Mill 4x16
When I initially reached out to Eastwood, I was looking for a basic benchtop drill press. Tired of using makeshift stands to hold up whatever material I was making holes in with a hand drill, having a drill press would be more precise and much more user-friendly. Eastwood said, "Hey, if you're in need of a drill press, why not opt for a Mini Mill instead?" I didn't argue.
Slightly larger than your standard benchtop drill press, Eastwood's Mini Mill packs an incredible amount of versatility from a relatively compact design. As a drill press, Eastwood includes a 13mm drill chuck that you can load with your choice of drill bits, and the Downfeed Handwheel is effortless.
A two-speed gearbox gives you full control of the motor that's capable of up 1,100RPM in low gear, and 2,500RPM in high gear—more than enough to handle most projects without breaking a sweat. Even at high speed, the noise levels are remarkably low, and I worked well into the night using the Mini Mill without any issues of neighborhood complaints, a huge bonus for me. On the side of the machine is large, easy-to-reach safety shut-off switch just in case you get carried away.
That 2,500RPM capable motor is intended for so much more than just standard drop drilling, and the numerous features packed into this little dynamo are what make it so versatile.
The large R8 taper spindle works with a ton of common tooling and includes a chuck to make swapping bits a breeze.
When it's time to move over to using an End Mill, the spindle can be easily removed by taking off the top cover, inserting the locking pin, then unbolting the nut that secures the spindle itself and giving it a light tap to release.
The spindle is then freed from mill and ready to be swapped out.
This 3/8 taper collet is also included and can be fitted with your choice of End Mill before the collet is pushed up and into place and tightened. Eastwood includes a razor sharp 3/8 End Mill, along with a full set of tools and hardware, so you're able to start working the moment you unpack and secure the Mill.
The magic of the Eastwood Mini Mill is its X and Y axis tables that offer side to side and front to back movement.
This allows you to drill into your material, and then slot the piece in whatever direction you choose. Or maybe you need to take some material off the top or side of an object; you can dial this in to do so. In fact, this mill will allow you to slot, drill, chamfer, bevel, face and plunge cut.
The same Downfeed Handwheel is used to bring the End Mill down or, if you need a more precise approach, you can lock quickly push in and lock the handwheel and rather than using its Coarse operation, choose the Fine adjustment wheel, which sits directly at the front of the mill. The knob allows increments of 0.001-in. and features a built-in pointer and radial gauge.
A large nut on the back of the machine can be loosened and allows the entire column to be tilted up to 45 degrees in either direction. This gives you the ability to enter material at an angle, offering even more options for customizing whatever it is you're working on. In order to secure your project, a pair of threaded T-locks are also included so you can lock down your choice of clamp or mini vise.
Moments after unboxing and going through the directions and precautions, I grabbed a piece of scrap aluminum in order to try and create a simple slot. The initial drill into the piece was effortless and I began slowly cranking the table's X axis to cut sideways and the End Mill had no problem slicing right through.
However, as you can see in the photo, I ended up with some rough edges on that first pass—a result of my impatience and eagerness to give it a try. I quickly learned the importance of bolting the mill to the workbench. Using the same piece of metal, I tried another run the next night after grabbing bolts, nuts and washers from my local hardware store. I picked up from the initial slot and moved the Y axis this time to connect the two. A little cleaner this time around with the mill bolted down. I then tried a third pass separately. I slowed down a little bit and it was a smoother cut. Admittedly, the learning curve is pretty steep for me, as I've never laid a finger on a mill and have only had the luxury of using a drill press on material a handful of times in my life. This is a major upgrade for my garage and one that I'm excited to learn more about and practice with.
Nothing Wrong with a Little Sand and Grind
Eastwood 1/2 HP 8-in Bench Grinder/Belt Sander
After weighing my options between a bench grinder and a belt sander, I couldn't figure out which would serve me better. Fortunately, I didn't have to decide because Eastwood offers this 1/2HP, 8-in. Combination Bench Grinder and Belt Sander.
Good for 3,450 RPM, it comes already loaded with an 8-in. aluminum oxide grinding wheel and 2x28-in. 80-grit sanding belt. The grinding wheel is surrounded by a quick-release wheel cover and includes an eye protection shield.
On the other side, the sanding belt offers some adjustability to suit your specific needs for various parts with its 45- to 90-degree positioning that can quickly be dialed in. Eastwood carries multiple sandpaper belt options that you can order through their website so you can find the exact grit that you need for your project.
A metal tracking knob keeps things simple and very effective as slight turns help to center the belt and make fine adjustments. An attached lamp housing can be pushed around to where you need a light source, and a cooling tray slides out from underneath to keep your material from overheating. The solid on/off switch has a dust cover, and you can bet there will be dust as that 1/2HP is more than capable of putting in some serious work.
While I made sure to properly bolt down the Mini Mill and Vise, I decided not to do the same with the Bench Grinder/Sander combo. It's heavy and well balanced, and having used it quite a few times already, I like the ability to move it around on the table depending on what I'm working on. I may change my mind later on, but for now I'm content with it being somewhat mobile on the work bench.
Keeping it Clean
Eastwood 40 Gallon Parts Washer
Years ago, my friend owned a small Honda-focused performance shop in San Diego and had a parts washer that I used all the time for various projects, and I always promised myself I'd eventually get one for my garage. It finally happened, but this version offers far more space than I could have imagined.
Based on a heavy-duty steel construction, Eastwood's 40-gallon Parts Washer is powder coated for corrosion resistance and that tub...well, that tub is massive. Assembly is as simple as bolting on the legs and lower storage shelf, double-checking to make sure the drain plug is secure, and flipping it over to put into its new home. Once assembled and right-side up, pull open the steel cover, held open with the integrated spring and strut, and realize just how much room you have to work with.
Boasting 41 x 19-in. opening dimensions and a 10-in. deep tub, I'm able to fit suspension pieces, wheels, even a transmission if I need to.
The reusable filter and pump sit inside the lower edge of the tank, while the power switch and cord slip through an opening on the side. Knowing you'd have wet hands anytime you turn it off, Eastwood added a waterproof cover over the switch.
I found some degreaser online and with a 3:1 mixture, added just over 24-gallons of total solution. A quick check underneath proved there were absolutely no leaks and it was ready to go. Flip the switch and the pump goes to work immediately, flowing degreaser through the adjustable neck spout which allows you to direct the stream exactly where you need it.
An easily installed and removed upper shelf gives you a work area just above your solution to scrub and clean your parts. Recently I'd sourced a number of old Honda valve covers to deep clean, refinish and hang on my garage wall, and the parts tank gave me enough space to leave 2 covers in the tank to soak while I worked on a third on the upper shelf. My next project will be reconditioning a set of Integra knuckles and they'll easily fit inside the tub with room to spare.
If you don't have the space, Eastwood offers a 20-gallon parts washer that's half as wide and will tuck away in the corner while still granting enough room to get plenty of work done, but I have to say, having the 40-gallon version is awesome.
Finally Seeing the Light
Eastwood Modular Light Module
The last item on my list of garage essentials might be the most frequently used of the bunch. Having added the overhead storage racks, my garage's original lighting was slightly blocked by storage bins, so I added a trio of hanging LED shop lights, and they're great, but often cast a shadow when I'm working under a dash, inside a wheel well and, most notably, when I'm under the hood. Eastwood has a number of lighting solutions and I was after something compact and versatile—that's where their Modular Light Module comes in.
This work light offers 1,000 lumens and its soft touch power button can be held to dim down to 100 lumens if a smaller light source is needed. Energy efficient, they use a 170-degree adjustable handle that also serves as its base with a strong magnet. In addition, there's a mounting hole to work with a tripod or light bar, both of which are also available from Eastwood's detailed website.
The lights are rechargeable and include not only the standard AC wall charger with a 9-ft. cord but also a DC charger that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter—perfect for roadside repairs or wrench sessions that don't have a wall plug available. Eastwood states that at full blast you should be able to get 1.5 hours of run time, though I saw closer to 2 hours on 2 different occasions. If you're using the light at its dimmest, you can expect up to 8 hours of service before needing a recharge. These lights are way too inexpensive to not have in your arsenal.
Eastwood Underhood Bar & Light Mount
Another way to get your hands on one of these versatile lights is to pick up Eastwood's Underhood Light Bracket, which includes 1 light and light module mount, along with a bar and hook system that attaches to the underside of any hood and uses tension so you can stretch it from 48-in. wide to 72-in. and secure it in place. The light bracket uses two latches and a screw on each end to mount the light and you can slide them across the length of the bar to find your ideal spot.
The hook ends are non-marring, so you won't have to worry about scratching your paint, and up to four modular lights will fit the bracket, though with just two I had plenty of coverage in the engine bay.
Testing the Waters
In the midst of working on refinishing those valve covers for my wall, I had a chance, on a very small scale, to put the new Eastwood machinery to work right after I'd received it. I put an old B20 cover into the Parts Washer tank and scrubbed it down to get years of grime off before priming and painting. Using the new vise to hold a scrap piece of carbon fiber, I cut a rectangular section out to use as a spark plug cover (I used to brace something like this to cut using a weight on the edge of a planter—not surprising, the new vise is 10 times sturdier and much safer).
The Mini Mill is advanced and I'm going to need some practice and experience, but it's also ultra-precise just as a regular drill press, even when using a very old bit. From the mill I took it to the end of the table for the Bench Grinder/Sander combo to grind a notch and smooth the outside edges.
Making a simple cover like this obviously can be done without these nice Eastwood goods but it's a night and day difference having all of right tools in one area of the garage to make things so much easier and to maximize my very limited time.
With my new/used workbench and parts washer alongside my garage wall loaded with the ability to thoroughly degrease and clean, clamp down and secure, grind and sand, as well as drill, slot chamfer, bevel, etc., not to mention enough lighting to brighten up the darkest parts of any project I'm working on, I feel like my home garage workspace is finally coming together the way I envisioned. Just to note, though you've probably heard it a million times: use proper eye protection when working with tools like the mini mill and grinder/sander. Even that quick, "just a few seconds of finishing this edge" sort of situation can result in huge problems. Take two seconds and throw on safety goggles or a face shield.
Next up is to clear a little more room for potentially adding a small compressor as well as addressing my hand tools, which are badly in need of an update.